A novelist, poet and essayist, Denis Hirson grew up in apartheid-ridden Johannesburg, South Africa. He left the country at the age of 22, after his father’s release from jail. Moving first to the UK, he later settled in France in 1975, where he teaches English today. Remaining true to the title of one of his poems – The long distance South African, he has written several novels revolving around the memory of the apartheid years. From his début book The House Next Door to Africa (1986) to the much praised I Remember King Kong (The Boxer), his frequent crossing between prose and poetry have installed him as one of South Africa’s most original voices. Hirson’s latest novel, The Dancing and the Death in Lemon Street has just been released. In this interview, he talks about growing up in South Africa, and how this impacted his literary approach.
Published in 2011 by Jacana Media (South Africa), Denis Hirson’s “The Dancing and the Death on Lemon Street” is an elegant, bitter-sweet novel that leaves its reader sore and admiring altogether. Admiring for this meticulous account of the first months of 1960 in an anonymous white suburb of Johannesburg – where lawns are razor cut and black maids discretely pop up in tubular pastel dresses as soon as called – is an evocative tour de force.